A Service of Saddleback College and
California State University, Northridge

Five That Keep Me Alive


Photo Credit: Brantley Gutierrez

Earlier in the year when I endured a battle with cancer, I needed music more than ever before.  Whenever things became overwhelming, a song would enter my heart and head and helped me find strength. I am grateful that I am now cancer-free. For those who do suffer still, whatever your circumstance, take solace in these songs. These are five songs that remind me how wonderful life can be, in good times and bad.

5. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "Keep A Little Soul"

How does an out-take from 35 years ago become one of the most life-affirming songs of 2018? A lyric like “Don’t be afraid to live what you believe” rings true when it comes from true believers like TP & the HBs.  When Tom unleashes unbridled joy near the end with a ‘yeah-ee-yeah-yeah’ the song is etched into memory. You will last forever in our souls, Tom.

4. Hozier Ft. Mavis Staples "Nina Cried Power"

The times, they ain’t a’changing. It seems like no one agrees on anything in this social and political climate. Conflict, not conversation, rules the land. Andrew Hozier-Byrne launched his career with a plaintive cry for acceptance with “Take Me to Church”. The video for that song became a lightning rod for the LGBT movement. It became a massive hit. Hozier confided earlier that he was concerned the song might eclipse building the career he hoped for. He needn’t worry. “Nina Cried Power” ranks with the some of the greatest protest songs ever. Like many of the icons referenced in the song, Hozier chooses not to politicize, but rather evangelize. It helps when the archangel of socially conscious singers, Mavis Staples, lends her mighty spirit to the song. You cannot help but be moved.

3. Dave Matthews Band "Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin)"

Like Hozier, Dave Matthews Band’s social plea is focused on what good we strive to imbue in our children. Dave sings from the perspective that caring parents share. You have to experience life’s unexpected joys and sorrows before you can even begin to reflect. Maintaining the innocence of youth while accepting life’s realities is a challenge that DMB fervently plead with us to embrace. I am moved every time this plays. What example are we setting? What world will our children inherit? It’s on us.

2. Brandi Carlile "The Joke"

Brandi, with the help of uber-producer Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings, matched her otherworldly voice with a song and production of equal intensity. Cobb challenged Carlile to write a song that possessed the emotional power and lyrical focus of her break-through song “The Story”. Brandi wrote a cinematic piece that, in her words, ‘represents the people that feel under-represented, unloved, or illegal”. Add the master stroke of Paul Buckmaster’s string arrangements and this became the #1 most requested song at 88.5FM this year.

1. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats "Hey Mama"

It is fitting that Nathaniel Rateliff records on Stax Records. This song stands with the best of that legendary labels soulful standards. Based on his own life story, Rateliff puts the pain and confusion of a young boy’s loss of his father into a song of great catharsis. Reaching out to his mother who is lost in her own grief, he gets a hard lesson. Moments like this in a child’s life either traumatize or build resilience. Either way, they shape the character’s will to move forward. Both Rateliff-- as a person and a performer --unleashes that pain and uncertainty in a song that defines “soul”. That power is intensified by the fact that the song was produced by the late Richard Swift, who sadly passed away earlier in the year.